“You are better off investing in animal health than putting out fires”
The Van der Avoird partnership’s dairy farm grew rapidly in three years. In 2019, the farm had about 100 dairy cows. Nowadays, 220 go through the parlour at the farm in Delfstrahuizen, The Netherlands. Besides dairy cattle, the farm has a small-scale contracting business and a childcare centre. Having plenty of work means it has to run smoothly. Good animal health is essential for this.
Text and image: Gerben Hofman (editor Melkveebedrijf Magazine)
“When you get bigger so quickly, you have to switch gears fast,” Marcel van der Avoird says. He started the dairy farm in 2019. These days, he leaves the daily management to his son Eric as much as possible. Daughter Sanne is still at school, but also helps out daily. She takes care of everything concerning animal administration and calf rearing. This is in good hands with her, Marcel thinks. “During rearing, the foundations are laid for a good dairy cow. In a few months’ time, the first animals Sanne has reared will start milking. I am very curious to see how they will do. I have every confidence in them.”
From calf rearing to dairy cattle
Van der Avoird started rearing young cattle for other dairy farmers years ago. At its peak, he had over 1,000 young cattle in rearing. Three years ago, he switched to dairy cattle. On 1 January 2019, he had 100 cows in milk. After taking over land and herds from two other farms, the dairy farm now has a total of 255 dairy cows, of which 220 are lactating. These produce an average of 9,200 kilograms of milk with 4.29% fat and 3.57% protein annually. To accommodate the growing dairy herd, the existing barn was extended quite a bit and merged with the adjacent youngstock barn. A barn is now rented at another location for its own young stock. The company employs one permanent employee. He is used both for the dairy farm and for contract work.
The contract work branch came into being at the time when Van der Avoird’s business was going through a growth spurt. The necessary tractors and machines were purchased to work the total 148 hectares. The Friesian dairy farmer decided to use these for contract work as well. “This for more profitability of the machinery. And also for more variety in the work,” says Van der Avoird, who likes to get on the tractor himself to work for other farmers or clients. Besides dairy cattle and contract work, the company has another notable branch: a childcare centre, run by Van der Avoird’s sister and wife. He himself is not involved in childcare, but he likes it a lot. “I do like having plenty of activity on my farm,” he says.
Getting somatic cell count under control
With a growing business with various activities, things have to run smoothly in the barn. Good animal health is therefore essential and Van der Avoird is keen on that. He wants to avoid challenges as much as possible and, if they do arise, deal with them immediately. The farm faced a sudden rise in somatic cell count last year.
“We took immediate measures then. We had the milking machine measured and replaced the nipple liners. We added a mycotoxin binder to the feed. We started paying more attention to cubicle hygiene and used a disinfectant in the cubicles. We supported challenged cows with traditional methods. Of cows where that did not work sufficiently, we said goodbye. In that respect, we are a bit no-nonsense. Animals with major challenges were given a single ticket to go on holiday with us at the time.” The measures paid off.
The somatic cell count dropped below the critical value again. Nevertheless, the dairy farmer kept looking for ways to get and keep animal health at a higher level. During that period, Erik de Groot of Animal Health Vision (AHV) came along. Van der Avoird already had experience with AHV, but was not yet convinced of the added value of the company’s guidance and products. AHV Farm Advisor Erik, however, was able to explain this to the dairy farmer very well. Together they looked through the farm’s milk recording results and decided to tackle the younger, promising cows with an AHV Extra Tablet in combination with the AHV Aspi. They ignored the prolonged cases. With the result, Van der Avoird is very satisfied.
“We are now very satisfied with the somatic cell count. In the heifers it stays under 150 and in the older cows under 250. We haven’t had to use traditional remedies for udder health for a long time. Only at dry-off we use it.”
Addressing fertility challenges
Udder health is not the only area where AHV’s products add value on the Friesian farm. Around calving, Van der Avoird uses AHV Metri Tablet and AHV Milk Start Paste. “This way, the afterbirth comes off better and the cows clean up faster. You can see that the cows gain strength faster after calving. The cow can therefore put more energy into milk production. In the first 60 days, it saves four litres of milk.”
AHV products and guidance also help with calves. Van der Avoird noticed that calves were often facing respiratory challenges at 14 days of age. Reason to pay extra attention to rearing them. “We now buy new pens regularly. These are on wheels, so we can easily remove them from the row and spray them clean. If a pen stands in the row between pens with calves still in them, it is much harder to do so. Moreover, we can now give the pens more time to dry, because we have more of them.”
Better health of calves
Besides improved housing, AHV’s products also contribute to better calf health. “I give the calves up to 14 days AHV Calf Start and AHV Respi through the milk,” Sanne says. ‘That’s how I found a good balance. I noticed that calves often got a dip after just under a week. With the powder, this dip is much smaller than before.” The dairy farmer sees the result of the efforts reflected in the figures.
“Previously, our calf mortality was 10 to 11%. Now we are at 2%. In addition, the better health in rearing will pay off in better dairy cows,” he expects. Van der Avoird’s next step is to optimise claw health. This has to be tiptop on the farm, especially since the cows do not go outside. “Recently, we saw some more claw challenges. We immediately anticipated this with a weekly foot bath and by trimming severe cases immediately. We will stay on top of that. I am also curious as to whether a bolus can help here. Given the experiences, I am confident about that.”
Connection with the AHV Advisor
The dairy farmer is happy to count on AHV’s support. “It is important to have a good connection with the farm advisor. And I have that. I also like the fact that he is always there for me. For example, one evening we were facing an udder health challenge, while we had run out of powder. I called Erik and the next morning there was a bucket of booster powder, so we could continue.” Van der Avoird’s son Eric was initially unconvinced of the added value of AHV. Until a cow with impaired udder health quickly recovered with the use of AHV Quick Tablet, AHV Extra Tablet and AHV Aspi. “Then he was converted. He came to tell me that specifically,” says AHV Farm Advisor Erik.
After the rapid growth in recent years, the Van der Avoird partnership does not plan to sit still in the coming years. For instance, the intention is to replace the roofs of the two connected stables with one large roof to create a single unit. There are also plans for a new young cattle shed and the farmers are orientating on a new milking parlour or milking robots. “But the main thing is that we keep running healthy. We work hard and we also want to earn a good living from it,” Van der Avoird concludes.
About the dairy farm
Marcel van der Avoird has 220 dairy cows on his dairy farm. They produce an average of 9.200 kilograms of milk annually with 4,29% fat and 3,57% protein.
These products are mentioned:
AHV Quick Tablet
AHV Extra Tablet
AHV Aspi Liquid
AHV Startlac Paste
AHV Calf Start
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